Israeli envoy building bridges


POSTED: Sunday, May 31, 2009

Radical Islamic fundamentalists backed by Iran threaten moderate Arab nations as much as they do Israel, and the historical rivals must cooperate to thwart terrorists and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, according to a top Israeli diplomat on his first visit to Hawaii. Consul General Jacob Dayan is Israel's senior representative to seven southwestern U.S. states, including Hawaii. He assumed the Los Angeles-based post in October 2007 and visited Hawaii last week on a twofold mission: to promote economic partnerships and to sound the alarm about the risk Iran's nuclear aspirations pose not only to the Middle East, but to the world.

Asked about the Hawaii Legislature's recent declaration of Sept. 24 as “;Islam Day,”; Dayan said he did not know about the resolution, or the subsequent uproar over it, so could not comment specifically on that issue, “;but I can say that Israel has no problem with Islam.”;

“;In fact,”; he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, “;what we see today is a confrontation between moderates and radicals within Islam. Islam is not and certainly should not be our enemy. Having said that, there are a lot of terrorist organizations that share Islamic fundamentalism and this is exactly what we should confront.”;

Dayan said that Iran, because it supports terrorists and is trying to develop nuclear weapons, poses a “;common threat”; to the Jewish state and its moderate Arab neighbors that may serve to spur the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, who want their own homeland.

“;The terrorists are Islamic fundamentalists ... but most of the victims today are Muslims as well,”; Dayan said.

“;If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will be a huge, huge boost to the radicals ...They will say 'we don't need to compromise, we can have it our way' everywhere, not just against Israel.

“;The fact that we share a common threat, the moderate Arabs and the Israelis, I think it provides us also an opportunity with the Palestinians,”; he said. “;Some of the moderates, definitely Egypt and Jordan, but also others threatened by Iran, such as Saudi Arabia”; all clearly have common interests in seeking peace.

In Hawaii, Dayan met with Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, Hawaii's congressional delegation—minus Sen. Daniel Inouye, whom Dayan described as “;one of the biggest friends Israel has in the United States”; and who met directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, D.C., on May 19—as well as the Jewish communities in Honolulu and on Maui.

“;Israel and Hawaii are doing already a lot together and we would like to expand that even more,”; he said.

Among the ventures are Project Better Place, which has Hawaii as one of six sites worldwide pioneering electric car stations developed in Israel; and the Puna Geothermal Venture, the power plant acquired by the Israeli company Ormat Technologies Inc. in 2004.

Water management is among the areas Dayan sees as ripe for expanded partnerships.

“;Water is a very big issue for Israel and for Hawaii,”; he said. “;Israel recycles nearly 70 percent of its water, the most in the world. The second in Spain, at 20 percent.”;

Besides recycling water for agricultural and other uses, arid Israel makes the most of its meager water supply by using drip irrigation, operating the largest desalination plant in the world and choosing its crops wisely, Dayan said.

“;We were exporting tomatoes, until we concluded that we were not just exporting tomatoes, we were exporting water! So what we did was develop special seeds and now we export those. And the seeds are much more profitable than the tomatoes ever were,”; he said.

Dayan said a water expert from Israel will present information to Lingle next month at the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association, in Park City, Utah.